Carissimi: Complete Oratorios

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Composer: Giacomo Carissimi
Artists: Ensemble Seicentonovecento, Flavio Colusso (conductor)
Giacomo Carissimi may not exactly be a household name, but during his time he was one of the most respected musicians in Europe. Born in 1605, he avoided becoming a cooper, unlike the rest of his family, cultivating his musical talent first as a singer, then organist, and eventually chapel master. He enjoyed a succession of positions at various religious institutions in his native Italy, including the church of the Jesuit Collegium Germanicum in Rome – which, under his guidance, was transformed into an international centre for music.

Indeed, Carissimi was a highly influential teacher whose fame reached far abroad, thanks to a number of his pupils (Krieger and Charpentier, among others). Now regarded as the grandfather of modern European music, he was essentially responsible for the forging of a new medium of ecclesiastical expression, that of the oratorio, and it is to his cultivation of this genre that this compilation is dedicated. Carissimi would take an historia, or biblical episode, from the Old Testament, and using a range of expressive procedures transform the narrative into the form of a spiritual play – a sacred epic in which recitative, ariosos, arias and choruses follow each other without interruption. From the dramatic use of silence and chromaticism to dissonant chords and embellishments underlining an important word, Carissimi utilised a rich palette of expression in order to heighten the drama of the plot.

In their performances of works such as The Last Judgement and David and Jonathan, Ensemble Seicentonovecento – who aim to recreate the conditions and characteristics of 17th-century performance – breathe new life into this forgotten voice of the past. They are astutely led by Flavio Colusso, who also directs a number of the composer’s sacred motets.

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